Vol. XLIX, No.4 April 2003
Rahul was born into a group of people called the Mahars in the state of Maharashtra, India, near present day Mumbai (Bombay). He was born in 1947 into a group who were euphemistically called "untouchables", one of the immensely large number of outcaste groups in India. At the age of 13, Rahul ran away to Bombay to seek a career in music He sought and received acceptance as a student of Baba Allauddin Khan, the greatest teacher of traditionaI Indian music of the 20th centtrry, the father ot Ali Akbar Khan and teacher of Ravi Shankar. Rahul studied under the great master for 6 years, concentrating on the Sitar. In the late 1960's Rahul moved to Denmark, perforining on the Sitar in Denmark and throughout Europe from 1969 to 1972. In 1972, he moved to Canada and lived in Montreal and Vancouver before commt to California in 1976.
Somewhere along his journey Raul converted to Buddhism in the movenient led by Dr. Bhimrav Ambedkar. He adopted the name Rahul Sariputra to mark this new life. Dr Ambedkar was the great leader of the 'untouchables" who, despite the severest conditions of discrimination and suppression, managed to get a formal education with degrees in law from Columbia University and the University of London. Dr Ambedkar worked tirelessly in the cause of the "untouchable" classes during the time of the Indian independence movement Upon independence in 1947, he was appointed to head the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution wherein caste discrimination was legally banned. The Constitution was adopted in 1949.
Rejecting Hinduism as the religion that created "untouchability", Dr Ambedkar publicly converted to Buddhism, along with 300,000 of his followers. This took place in the city of Nagpur on October 14, 1956. Tragically, Dr. Ambedkar died on December 5th of that year and a single leader of his movement has yet to emerge.
In 1978, Rahul was in Los Angeles, and our lives crossed Since then Raliul has unexpectedly but regularly entered in and out of life here at Senshin Temple He lived with friends, took in students, gave Sitar concerts. sold his paintings on Buddhist subjects, and always talked about the "New Buddlists" of India and their struggles to build a Buddhist Vihara of their own He lived frugally and simply, sendiug money to his relatives at home and creating and setting up organizations promoting the cause or the "New or Indian Buddhists". We worked together on fund-raisiug projects, benefit concerts, selling his paintings and drawings, etc. A few years ago, Rahul changed his name to Rahul Sakyaputra (Rahul, son of the Sakyas). Rahul was basically cheergul and outgoing, always looking for workable change. But as we talked over the years, I began to see a kind ot sadness in his eyes as well as an occasional flare of anger - sadness from his childhood living as an "untouchable" and anger at the slowness of its disappearance. In the 26 years we talked, Rahul wept only once. And that was when he shared with me memories of being treated as someone whose physical touch was considered polluting, suffering oppression and indignities no human being should be subjected to. It was a rare moment because Rahul was far too busy teaching. giving Sitar concerts, painting, studying the Pali Nikayas, and talking to Americans about the plight of his people, to be paralyzed by this experience - but the wound remained. He cneated and moved in ever-widening circles of connection, leaving his ego behind for more important relationships. Rahul is the onlv Indian musician I have known, personally. An his personality is reflected in his music and CD recordings It is hard to explain in words - but the sadness, the anger, and the brightness he held for the future are all there.
Rahul returned to India for visit in November of 2002 He died of a massive heart attack a few days after arriving, on November 17, 2002. A remarkable life well and deeply lived. Shukria Rahul.